YouTube footage of Northern Irish protests to be explored

Posted by er134 at May 21, 2014 09:54 AM |
University of Leicester expert to study YouTube footage of loyalist flag protests in Northern Ireland

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 May 2014

A University of Leicester social media expert is examining how social media was used to share eyewitness perspectives on the policing of loyalist flag protests in Northern Ireland in January 2013.

Dr Paul Reilly, of the University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication, has received a grant of £7,300 from the British Academy to study the comments posted below YouTube footage of the protests, which occurred in the aftermath of the decision of Belfast City Council in December 2012 to alter its protocol on the flying of the Union Flag over Belfast City Hall from all-year round to designated days.

A total of 29 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers were injured in clashes with loyalists during the protests in January 2013. While PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott’s praised the ‘firm tactics’ adopted by his officers, loyalists claimed that the policing of the protests was ‘heavy-handed.’

The project will explore whether the use of social media for inverse surveillance (sousveillance) has the potential to elicit support for groups whose narratives do not always feature in mainstream media coverage of civil unrest.

It will examine YouTube footage that was presumably shared by eyewitnesses to highlight the allegedly heavy-handed tactics of the PSNI as they clashed with loyalist flag protestors near the Lower Newtownards Road/Short Strand sectarian interface on 12 January 2013.

In particular, it will assess the extent to which those who commented on this footage felt that the police tactics were heavy-handed and whether their views appeared to have been influenced by the media coverage of the flag protests.

Dr Reilly is well-placed to lead the project, having written extensively on how digital media is being used in Northern Ireland - including in his 2011 book, Framing the Troubles Online: Northern Irish political groups and website strategy.

His forthcoming book (Manchester University Press, due 2014) will focus on the role of social media during the Loyalist flag protests.

He is also currently working with Dr Orna Young on a project funded by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, which will investigate the extent to which the social media activity surrounding contentious parades and protests has affected community relations in Northern Ireland.

Dr Reilly said: “YouTube offers eyewitnesses an unprecedented opportunity to document alleged police heavy-handedness and to share this footage instantly with a potential global audience. However, such sousveillance may have unpredictable - and even undesirable - results.”

“My previous research (on YouTube footage showing the policing of the ‘anti-Tesco’ riot in Stokes Croft) suggested that the views of many commentators are still largely influenced by the news media and there was little rational debate about the meaning of the events captured on camera. This project will examine whether the use of social media to capture eyewitness perspectives on the policing of protests in Northern Ireland generates similar responses amongst YouTube users.”

A number of outputs are planned including a report detailing its key findings and several research papers. The research team will also disseminate the results of the study via a project blog that will be launched in September 2014.


Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact Dr Paul Reilly at:

Dr Reilly’s publications include:

Reilly, P (2013) Ourselves Alone (but making connections): The social media strategies of Sinn Fein, Nixon P., Rawal R. and Mercea D. (eds) Chasing The Promise of Internet Politics, London: Routledge

Reilly, P. (2012) Community worker perspectives on the use of new media to promote conflict transformation in Belfast. Urban Studies, 49:15, pp.3385-3401

Reilly, P (2011) 'Anti-social' networking in Northern Ireland: policy responses to young people's use of social media for organising anti-social behaviour, Policy and Internet, Volume 3, Issue 1, Article 7.

Reilly, P (2011) Framing the Troubles Online: Northern Irish political groups and website strategy (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

Reilly, P. (2008) ‘Googling Terrorists: Are Northern Irish terrorists visible on Internet search engines?’ in Spink, A and Zimmer, M. (eds) Search Engines: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, (New York: Springers), pp. 151-177

Reilly, P. (2006) Civil Society, the Internet and Terrorism: case studies from Northern Ireland. In Oates, S, Owen, D and Gibson, R.K (Eds) The Internet and Politics: Citizens, voters and activists, London: Routledge. (pp. 118 - 135)

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